Politics & Policy

The Headache of Judges, &C.

Want to talk a little about judges? I’ll make just a couple of points. First, David Broder wrote about the selection of John Roberts, and the “dean” said, “Having argued earlier that Bush was probably eager for a smackdown with Senate Democrats, let me say that I am delighted to have been wrong.”

I was amused by that word “smackdown”–because it is up to Republican presidents not to rile Democrats, e.g., by nominating such principled men as Mike Luttig (to the Court) or John Bolton (for U.N. ambassador). Are Democrats ever warned to avoid a “smackdown” with Republicans? Hmm?

I was further amused by the title over Broder’s column: “The Nominee’s Sheltered World.” You see, Broder worries that Roberts hasn’t experienced enough of life to be an effective–i.e., not too conservative–judge. These same worries, believe it or not, were expressed–a lot–over Souter. Yes, Souter. The Left, and even moderate Democrats, were very worried about Souter, because he lived in the woods with his mother, or whatever, and would he have enough compassion for the poor, the halt, the lame, the black, the Hispanic, the lesbian, etc.?

And, sure enough, Souter became pretty much the Democrats’ favorite justice.

Speaking of the Democrats’ justices: Do you remember the confirmation hearings for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or Stephen Breyer, President Clinton’s nominees? Neither do I. That’s because they went through like greased lightning. The Republicans didn’t lift a finger to stop them. They didn’t want to.

I am a) a political junkie and b) a political journalist, and I have no memory–none–of those confirmation hearings. I raised this recently with a longtime Republican member of the Judiciary Committee. He couldn’t remember the hearings, either–plus, “I actually recommended those two.”

Ah, well.

The big press regards Scalia and Thomas as ultra-conservative, or even extreme. Are they any more reliably conservative than Ginsburg and Breyer are reliably liberal? Of course not. If anything, the two conservatives are more unpredictable than the Clinton justices. You almost always know where Ginsburg and Breyer will wind up on a case; they don’t surprise you.

And yet, they are thought of as Great Moderates–aren’t they? While our guys are doctrinaire ogres.

The Left has made out very well from Republican picks: Earl Warren, William J. Brennan, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, Souter–all our beauties.

Wonderful. I say, why don’t we let Democratic presidents make all the picks? Whizzer White turned out okay!

‐Of course, if you’re like me, Robert Bork is your once and forever Supreme Court justice. He was on our most recent NR cruise (British Isles). And being around him is enough to make you mad all over again, at what they–you know, “they”–did to him. He is our best and brightest: a magnificent legal scholar, having exactly the sort of mind and temperament you want in a judge. That is, if you want your courts to function as courts, instead of what they have become.

Anyway, check out the current issue of Azure, the journal of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. It contains an essay by Bork–disguised as a letter from him–on constitutions and bills of rights, and the dangers therein. It is, in a way, a friendly warning to Israel, as they continue to build their state (which is only about 55 years old). The clarity of Bork’s pen, and the soundness of his thinking, are almost enough to make you weep.

Hang on, I’m getting drops all over my keyboard.

‐I want to tell you about a cartoon. It is by Peter Brookes, and was published in the Times (of London)–on July 12, five days after the initial bombings. At the top of the cartoon is the instruction “Spot the Difference.” In the left panel is a terrorist, with a bomb next to him, on which is written, “Indiscriminate Killer Aimed at Urban Centre.” In the right panel is an American general, with a bomb next to him, on which is written the same thing: “Indiscriminate Killer Aimed at Urban Centre.” Again, the instruction at the top is, “Spot the Difference.”

This perfect specimen of moral equivalence–and stupidity, and offensiveness–was published in Rupert Murdoch’s Times. You may want to remember that next time someone goes on about the Murdochian “right-wing” press.

Then again, some right-wingers are indistinguishable from Noam Chomsky, or Michael Moore, in this war.

‐I was in London the day of the bombings, and for several days after. Believe me, the press wasn’t pretty–including that which is called “conservative.” Did you know that Bush and the Jews are responsible for all our problems? You didn’t? What’s the matter with you?

‐Writing a “Letter from the Middle East,” Steven Erlanger, the New York Times’s guy in the PA, said, “Abbas is trying to build a state out of the rotten, corrupted body of the Palestinian Authority he inherited from Yasser Arafat.”

Gee, they never talked that way about Arafat and the PA when the good Chairman was alive and working, did they? Only when he croaked was it safe–just as it was safe to tell the truth about the Soviet Union, after the implosion. Before, you risked “poisoning the atmosphere of détente.”

Remember that one?


The New York Times could have done a lot of good by talking about how rotten and corrupt Arafat was, when it mattered–a lot of good for Palestinians, above all.

‐Okay, let me sing a conservative oldie for you (another one, I should say!): The Times’s Adam Nagourney wrote, “Bush has embraced the views of his party’s rightist wing with such vigor that it is hard to believe that his views are simply a matter of political calculation.”

Rightist! First of all, that word, used there, is absurd. How are you going to describe Franco? (So help me, I’ll get 500 e-mails from his fans.) But the main point: Do you see “leftist” used that way, in those pages? Strictly rhetorical, kids.

‐I was depressed to learn that Prince Turki al-Faisal has been named Saudi ambassador to the U.S.–that is, I would have been depressed, if one had the right to be depressed by anything the Saudi government does. As you may remember, I saw Turki perform last May, at a conference in Jordan. A piece of work, the guy: deeply resentful of democrats, of reformers, of the new Iraq–uses Palestinians as shields. (What I mean is, he takes the ever-popular line, “We can make no changes in our various countries as long as Israel is oppressing the Palestinians.”) Furthermore, he led Saudi intelligence, and is no Albert Schweitzer.

But again: Why gripe about a particular Saudi appointment? Whom were they going to send us? Some liberal they yanked from a dungeon? Still, I have a feeling we’ll be missing the chubby, bearded smooth guy.

‐Some people in Britain want to ban the singing of “Land of Hope and Glory” at Remembrance Day celebrations. Why? Too traditional, too imperialist, too white, for lack of a better word. The proposed replacement? A song called “Sailing,” by Rod Stewart, or sung by him, or whatever. According to the Daily Telegraph, one pol said this “would be a more appropriate song because it was more relevant to the younger generation.”

Yes, relevance, that smelly, silly canard. Unfortunately, “Land of Hope and Glory” is more “relevant” than ever. If the Brits retained more of that spirit, they would be in an infinitely better position.

‐More nuttiness from Britain? I’ll simply quote from the Daily Telegraph:

The word “fail” as a verdict on children’s exams and other school work should be abolished and replaced with the term “deferred success,” a teaching union official is proposing. Liz Beattie . . . believes that some children find “failure very hard to cope with” and that it can lead them to becoming depressed.

Call it “deferred success” if you want, but . . .

And what is the most famous American use of the word “deferred”? In the Langston Hughes poem, quite right.

‐Do you recall that, about a year ago, we were praising milkshakes, from all over the country? (When I say “we,” I’m not being royal: I’m talking about Impromptusites and me.) Well, have I got a milkshake for you. I was driving from Norfolk, Va., down to the Outer Banks. And somewhere short of Kitty Hawk, I ran across Mel’s Diner, on the right side of the road. Somehow, my car wanted to turn there–had a mind of its own.

And this lovely, kind waitress proceeds to make me a blueberry milkshake that was–pardon the dodge–beyond description. Heavenly, is the best I can come up with. I had never thought about a blueberry milkshake (really hadn’t heard of one). But the blueberries were local, the ice cream was superb, and the spillover in the silver canister was massive.

I continued down the road in a coma, an incredibly pleasant, grateful coma.

Just telling you.

‐Just beyond Mel’s there was a pizzeria announced as a “Pizzaria.” In fact, I think it was called “The Pizza Pizzaria.” I liked that–spelled the way we Americans pronounce it.

‐More Americana? Was in upstate New York, somewhere on the Pennsylvania line, taking a long walk through the countryside, and there was a barn on which was daubed, “Say a Prayer for Our Troops.” No, I was no longer on the Upper West Side. On my return trip, I found that the other side of the barn featured daubings, too: “Piss on the U.N.”; “Skin Saddam Alive.”

My old friend Eddie had a term for such folks: “Nordlinger constituents.” (Was never in a position to run for anything, though.)

‐I’ve got tons more, but I think we should close. No, first a little language. Having been on a million flights lately, I can testify that stewards, stewardesses, and pilots say, “Welcome onboard.” This jars my ear, somehow. More natural, I believe, is “Welcome aboard.” I would say, “We’ve got lots of snacks and drinks here onboard. So, welcome aboard!”

Could be just me.

‐Should we have a little music? Some criticism from the New York Sun? For a review of a New York Philharmonic summertime concert, please go here. For a review of the pianist Dmitri Bashkirov in recital, please go here. For reviews of the opening concert of the Mostly Mozart Festival, and of a recital by the pianist Marc-André Hamelin, please go here.

That oughta hold you.

‐A final note–from France. The punk rocker Patti Smith was awarded the Insignia of Commander of the Order of the Arts and Letters. According to a press report, the Ministry of Culture “noted Smith’s appreciation of 19th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud, and praised her as ‘one of the most influential artists in women’s rock ‘n’ roll.’”

Forgetting my skepticism about the Rimbaud thing: “women’s rock ‘n’ roll”? If you were a female rocker, wouldn’t you be sort of offended? No, you’d just take the insignia, I understand!


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